DETROIT — The final damage for Matthew Boyd on Sunday afternoon came on a home run off a high fastball, a common sight last year but a rarity this season. Ian Happ’s opposite-field shot was just the second homer of the season off Boyd, who yielded the most in the American League the past two seasons.
That difference alone says quite a bit about the season Boyd is having, moreso than his 2-4 record. Most of his damage in Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Cubs came inside the park, helped in part by the Tigers defense. Happ scored from second base on a ground ball when Detroit focused on a double-play attempt and missed him rounding third. A Harold Castro error at third base extended the fourth inning for a Happ RBI double, then a missed cutoff throw by Robbie Grossman allowed David Bote to take third base on his RBI double and score on a sacrifice fly.
Boyd finished with five runs (four earned) on six hits in six innings. He tied his season high with eight strikeouts. His ERA jumped from 1.94 to 2.45, but remains sixth best among AL starters as of mid-afternoon Sunday. Boyd’s .965 WHIP remains fifth best in the AL. His turnaround, and his big-picture transformation as a pitcher, has been a bright spot in what has been a rough start for the Tigers’ season through 40 games. The next quarter of a season could leave Detroit’s front office with an interesting decision to make heading into the July Trade Deadline.
Stylistically, Boyd has evolved from a heavy dose of fastball and sliders into a pitcher willing to use his full arsenal in different counts to keep hitters off-balance. His fastball comprised just over one-third of his 92 pitches Sunday, down from his 45.6 percent rate for the season, according to Statcast. It accounted for six of his 14 swings and misses, but it was set up by a heavier dose of offspeed pitches. After manager A.J. Hinch talked before the game about the importance of Boyd mixing his breaking balls, Boyd used his curveball — the fourth pitch in his repertoire — to start off at least four batters and give a different look compared to his slider, which drew five swings and misses and half of his strikeouts.
The Tigers have scored two runs or fewer in five of Boyd’s eight starts, including Sunday against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. But the more Boyd delivers stingy pitching like this, the more interesting a decision Detroit could face come July.
Boyd’s stats are as good or better through eight starts this season than they were at the same point two years ago, when his hot start sparked trade speculation for a Tigers team that was headed toward 114 losses. A midseason downturn tempered trade interest, and general manager Al Avila decided to hold onto him at the deadline.
Two years later, Boyd’s Tigers tenure is again nearing an intersection. The 30-year-old is eligible for free agency after next season, and Detroit is still building despite talk of turning the corner. The strength of the rebuild is pitching, with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal already in the rotation and learning with help from Boyd, but Matt Manning’s first three starts at Triple-A Toledo — including eight home runs allowed over 12 2/3 innings — suggest the Tigers’ top pitching prospect will need more time before he’s ready for the big leagues.
Detroit has to decide whether Boyd fits in the long-term plan enough to pursue a contract extension, trade him this summer to try to add young talent, or play out the situation into next year with the option of recouping a Draft pick should he eventually leave in free agency.